Can You Outread a Puppy?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 14th, 2020

My puppy, Lola, listens to the reading challenge I set for her. She is skeptical, but game.

Oh, I can’t help it; it’s January, so I can’t resist writing about — if not resolutions, then aspirations. The readerly kind. Every year, I think about what I’ve taken in over the past 12 months, how much of it was work reading, how much pleasure, how diverse in country and culture it was, and whether I managed to sneak in any re-reading of beloved books from the past (almost impossible as a bookseller).

For the past several years, I’ve done a 50-50 Read, where at least 50% of my books are #OwnVoices titles. It has gotten so much easier in just the past two years to make towering piles of possible books! The 50-50 Read is a foundation; any reading goal that tempts me has to include that criterion.

One of my customers told me she was aiming to read 20 books this year. At first, I was secretly surprised by that number, which seemed on the modest side. I always think of bookstore shoppers as reading addicts who devour a book every few days. But of course many things in life compete with reading, even for booksellers, and 20 great books? That’s a wonderful goal, and far above the national average. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2018, Americans read 12 books a year (that was the mean), and the typical American (the median) read just four.

Lola contemplates which book to choose to begin her reading challenge.

Her goal made me wonder what reading goals my friends set for themselves this year. When I posed the question on social media (mere moments before writing this post, truth be told), I got some quick replies. Author Erin Dionne immediately shared Book Riot’s 2020 Read Harder Challenge, which offers 24 different suggestions, many of which buck reading trends in a humorous way (“Read a historical fiction novel not set in WWII,”), or attempt to swim against a mainstream and existentially exhausting tide (“Read a mystery where the victim(s) is not a woman”), or steer readers toward under-read genres (“Read a YA nonfiction book“), or experience books in wonderful ways we may have overlooked (“Read an audiobook of poetry“).

I was disappointed that the final challenge, “Read a book in any genre by a Native, First Nations, or Indigenous author,” didn’t include a link to an article of suggested titles, like the other 23 challenges, but I’m hoping that is forthcoming. If not, visit Debbie Reese’s esteemed site for ideas!

Another reader responded to my question saying that she wanted to go from reading New Yorker articles to reading actual books. Her goal is to always have a book on hand. A worthy goal! And there should still be time for the New Yorker.

“Why must I CHOOSE?! And why are there so many books about cats? And hedgehogs? And skunks?!”

Another friend said that she had set a challenge for herself to read something NOT work-related in the next 100 days, but had restarted the challenge three times in a row so far. “I do love my job!” she said. Maybe she needs a new goal? To read even more books about work?

Another friend and bookstore customer is focusing her reading on books written by Black female authors. So far this year, she’s read Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo and Black Is the Body by Vermont’s own Emily Bernard. [I, Elizabeth, also read Emily Bernard’s book and loved it! It’s wonderful, honest, funny, smart, conflicted, and nuanced.]

A radio host and writer replied and said succinctly, “More poetry, and out loud.”

One wag posted that he would “apparently be reading more Facebook posts.”

Speaking of wags, the puppy finally selected her first book of 2020, Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You by Clive D.L. Wynne, PhD. A fine choice indeed, though we will be encouraging her to branch out and pick less on-the-nose titles in future.

Are reading goals something you set for yourself? Do you stick to them, find them useful, inspiring, and fun? If so, please share them with us!

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